Dear Mr Collin Brewer,
Firstly may I congratulate you on your recent re-election. It has certainly come as a surprise to many. Indeed I believe that I can count myself amongst the number of people who were slightly bemused as to quite what societal blip occurred in-between your apologetic resignation in February and then rather less than trouble free return in May for re-election.
It crossed my mind that, in those few months of watching Jeremy Kyle in your dressing gown that you came to the decision that perhaps you weren’t ready to cease being a productive member of society quite yet after all, which is in many ways applaudable, although I can’t help wondering if a move away from a job that involves communicating with and interacting with other people would have been a more suitable return to work endeavour. I wonder if you have thought this, too, while the angry mob continues to campaign tirelessly to tie you to a stake and poke you with sharp sticks find a slightly more emotionally rounded individual to represent them in Cornwall.
In case you’re not familiar with who I am (as something leads me to suspect that you’re not an avid reader of blogs like mine) let me introduce myself. My name is Renata, I have three children, one of whom, despite being quite adorable and super smart, has probably cost the system too much money if we are measuring his worth against his potential for physical productiveness. You see his body rather lets his quick mind down. It is small and weak and still relies on its mother’s arms to carry it around and protect it from being damaged.
I try not to get too hung up on this though as I have always endeavoured to see the positives in every situation I face. You may well have met the other version of mothers like me since your re-election. They would have been the ones baying for your blood, perhaps jabbing pitchforks at you as you tried to go about your daily business. Whilst I feel an utter sense of solidarity with other parents of children like mine (after all I think it is entirely understandable, and in some cases important, to embrace how angry or upset something can make us) I have never believed that advocacy with anger is the way to change the world, so be reassured that we are unlikely to get a chance to meet over a pitchfork any time soon.
It may surprise you to find out that we parents, and indeed most of the people that you see shaking their fists at you as you walk by them, consider themselves to be part of a very special community. We mostly (directly or indirectly) have some personal connection with the disabled community which motivates us to advocate for them. We as humans tend to feel compelled to fight for a cause after we have made a personal connection with it. It can be directly, perhaps because it affects our lives on a daily basis, or indirectly, through our ability as humans to be emotionally moved. Something as simple as seeing a small pair of wet eyes belonging to a desperate looking child can be enough to soften the hardest heart. It is this compulsion to respond to another human being that is what in my mind makes us human, that makes us a society rather than simply a race. There is something very subconscious about our urge to protect our young, our vulnerable, our elderly. We feel it when we let ourselves make a personal connection, when we use our higher thinking powers to reason what is right and wrong and not to skirt through life remaining scared of that which we don’t understand. Life should never be about hiding in a cave trying to stay safe from things we don’t understand rather than exploring and trying to understand the world beyond our own cave walls.
I am much luckier than you, though, Mr Brewer. I have had the education of a lifetime. I’m not, of course, talking about the school system or university systems that I have been through as I’m sure you have some certificates of your own yellowing in a cupboard somewhere to prove that you too can sit exams. I was educated by a small, disabled child.
I am acutely aware of how lucky I am that Dominic came into my life. He has given me access to a world that I could have otherwise remained ignorant about and blinded to. It is shocking to me now to think of the life I could have never had, the people that I could have never met, the person I could never have been able to become. I’d like to think that I would have still gone through life without upsetting almost the entire disabled community by being obviously ignorant or rude, but neither would I have stood outside in the pouring rain campaigning for disabled rights when Doctor Who was on the telly. I don’t think that the ‘other’ version of me would have been a bad person, just one who didn’t know that they were wearing blinkers and that there was a whole world beyond the one she’d always understood.
Of course I never realised that anything had changed when my youngest, Dominic, was born. I was just too caught up in the smallness and smell and warmth and humanness of the tiny little being in my arms and enjoying Elliot and Lilia exploring their new roles as siblings to this tiny dot of a baby. I didn’t even realise my life was changing course as the months ticked past and the doctors visits started becoming regular. I think that the first time I gave it some proper thought was on the evening of an unremarkable day that the ugliest chair I had ever seen was delivered to my house. It was a metal monstrosity that wouldn’t have been amiss in a Texan prison’s gas chamber. To add insult to injury someone had tried unsuccessfully to hide the scary metal by covering it in fabric that looked like a Christmas fairy had vomited all over the chair made of a material that had so little natural fibre in it that I’m surprised that we didn’t see sparks every time Dominic made a futile attempt to free himself from it.
That evening I sat on the floor opposite the chair frowning, wondering if a) this was indicative of how local authorities thought you made a disabled child happy and b) whether or not this meant that I had a disabled child. And that is probably when everything started to change for me.
Do you have children Mr Brewer? I get the impression that, perhaps, you don’t. You see, when you live with a child, within their own family they are defined by the part they play as an intrinsic member of the family. They may be the charming one, or the cheeky one or the shy one or the slightly farty one, or the charmily cheeky, shy farty one. I wonder how you were described as a child Mr Brewer? Where you a little awkward? Struggled to play nicely with the other kids? No matter how often they told you off for pulling the wings of flies I am sure that your parents still looked at you as I look at my children, filled with wonder at how remarkable children are. I’m sure your parents, as they looked at their little boy, and coloured him in with their hopes and dreams for his future, were totally convinced that he would go out and make the world a better place. Most parents want that for their children no matter how horrid they might actually be. I’m sure your parents wanted the very best for you even if you continued to wet the bed long past childhood and never seemed to be able to get rid of the green snot that formed a bridge between your nose and your top lip. Parents can see past things like that, thank goodness: they see the child, the amazing presence of possibility; they see that possibility regardless, they see it no matter how shoddy or broken or unacceptable the exterior may seem to someone else.
My little boy may very well look a bit broken to someone who hadn’t had the time to get to know him, I imagine his quality of life may seem questionable and no doubt his wheelchair might mean that people might be tempted to judge him as a person unlikely to make a productive contribution to the world as he reaches adulthood. Despite this, I have never spent a second of my life wishing that he was just like every other kid. Dominic could not be the amazing child he is today without having lived the extraordinary life that he has. Take away the extra and simply leave the ordinary and I believe that more than just his life would be worse off because of it. You see, Mr Brewer, children like Dominic don’t just make their own lives extraordinary, they touch the lives of those around them. I am fortunate enough to be able to share our family with a much larger audience through writing; and I know from the lovely emails and cards that get sent that stories like ours are of huge value in a world so full of stories reminding people that they should only ever aspire to be just like everyone else.
Dominic is, without a doubt, the very best thing that happened to me. He has made me a better mother to Elliot and Lilia, he has made me excited about the possibilities that exist if you believe in something enough and he has made me care enough about the world around me to be brave enough to fight for what I believe in. What people perhaps don’t realise when they see the wheelchair approach is that he is the remarkable boy that he is because of every part of him, including his disability. I love each part equally and wouldn’t want to lose or undo or snuff out a single part of him because his uniqueness is of such true value in our society. It’s so valuable because it’s the part that so many people have allowed to become lost in themselves. It’s the amazing part of us that gets involved when they see someone in need of help regardless of the cost to themselves, it’s the part that speaks up for what is right when everyone else is saying what is expected, and it’s the part of you that stops and quietens the noise of the day and remembers to dream the big dreams and remind yourself what is really important in your life.
I, like many people I imagine, used to be too scared to be seen as different, and in turn Mr Brewer perhaps I, like you, might have found myself growing scared of difference in others, in case it somehow revealed the inadequacy I felt about myself. Being so scared all the time is miserable, it can change even the most joy-filled children into bitter, selfish and lonely adults and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.
I feel a huge sense of relief that I didn’t let my insecurities end up dictating the version of the world I was going to see as an adult. Especially because I am an adult with the responsibility to care for and nurture others. I was lucky that when Dominic was born, along with a lot of heartache that goes hand in hand with a child whose life is in the balance, I got the most extraordinarily eye opening education I could have ever have hoped for. This small child has changed the way I see the world, it is like the blinkers have been removed and I am left, hand hovering over an open mouth, struck by how much I might have missed out on, and how little I had really understood about what being human is all about.
I know that a lot of people felt a huge amount of anger when you suggested that children like Dominic should perhaps be measured in terms of their cash value in society. Whilst I admit the reference to smashing their heads against a wall like you would the runt of a litter made my stomach lurch (I’m vegetarian so the visual image had a double whammy on my emotions) I have to accept that being angry with you is not worth me wasting much emotion on. Your viewpoint is not a new one. Indeed, throughout various points in our collective history the idea has returned that a person’s worth should be directly measured by their physical productiveness. This is markedly different from saying that people should be measured by their value to society, because I think that what someone sees as valuable might be subject to rather a wide range of reference (as your opposing views to your angry mob so helpfully demonstrate).
Having someone’s worth (and right to live) valued by their ability to participate in the workplace raises problems of its own though. It made me wonder how you felt when your first comments (that disabled children should be put down) led to your resignation earlier this year. It must have been very difficult to have suddenly felt so stripped of an identity, to have changed position so dramatically within your understanding of society. I wonder if it was so difficult that you made the (arguably extremely brave) decision that, despite most of Cornwall feeling about as warmly towards you as they might a giant pus-filled boil on the sweaty testicle of humanity, you would stand for re-election a few months later.
If such insecurity is at the heart of your comments and decisions over the past few months I suspect that you might get some comfort from the continued attention that you are currently getting. A void that deep must be very difficult to fill. I understand from the newspapers dining out on the controversy that you are currently on sick leave, and I find myself thinking that there is a certain irony to be found in your body choosing to let you down at such a pinnacle in your career.
But you see, Mr Brewer, what you must realise is that eventually everyone is let down by the body that they were born in. It either conks out entirely one day or it slowly becomes less and less reliable, breaking and groaning and refusing more and more each day. Eventually, whether you admit it to yourself or not, society will class you as disabled. You might get out of breath when you walk more than a few steps, perhaps you can no longer read the newspaper headlines, you might forget what year it is, try as you might you probably won’t hear what anyone is saying, your kidneys may very well decide they’ve done quite enough work already, your body could rebel against you and cause clots or bleeds that leave you unable to communicate, reason or participate, or perhaps you just can’t quite manage the stairs any more, a touch of arthritis and an unforgiving local environment and you are confined to your house. We will all know what it is to experience disability at some point in our lives Mr Brewer, because our bodies were never designed to be perfect and they were never designed to go on forever, that’s the sad irony of our society’s flawed ideals. Our bodies were designed to be amazing, to be alive and unique and something to be celebrated in whatever form they come in and whatever form they fade out in. Our minds were never meant to all try and conform and think in a uniform manner, they evolved to be free and find their strengths in unique ways.
We each bring a bit of magic that is a fingerprint of ourselves and by the time you truly understand what it is to be disabled Mr Brewer, I hope my children are confident enough to feel free to share themselves with the world and can be celebrated for what they have to offer, for their worth as an amazing individuals who have the power to touch, influence, love, interact, feel, react and change the world around them. I am not angry with you, Mr Brewer, instead I am patting an empty wheelchair space and welcoming you to our club. Your seat is already reserved so you can look forward to your own education of a lifetime. I just hope that when the time comes where you learn that people have so much more to offer the world than the economic value you currently chose to measure them by, there are still people around you who are willing to listening to just another worthless old man in a wheelchair who is no more than a drain on our society. It would probably be kinder make more financial sense to just put you down, don’t you think?
I was asked to write this post by a very good friend of mine who I never would have had the good fortune to meet had the disabled community not been so welcoming. Hayley, owner of the blog DownsSideUp has the unfortunate pleasure of living in Cornwall, which is where Collin Brewer has been re-elected. With a dignity and calm that belies the fury that she feels that in our day and age such things are still said and accepted (if these were racist comments would the council act?). She has called on all the bloggers that she knows to write a little something to show our support. This post constitutes my little something. Here are everyone elses’
If you want to read more about Collin Brewer you can either google him, or a good summary can be found here in an article written by the Independant